Basic casting

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Christian for Israel

Guest
#1
many people reload for years using store bought jacketed or cast bullets. being a cheap bugger i wanted to make my own. there are two ways to do this, the super expensive way is to swage, or use intense pressure to force the lead into the shape of a bullet. the other way is to melt the lead and cast the bullets with a mold. this way is MUCH less expensive. being cheap (frugal?) i chose the latter.

first off, here's a selection of the bullets i cast. there are also ingots there. ingots are useful for preparing the mix and fluxing it before hand. you could buy an ingot mold, but i simply use a steel muffin pan. i coat it with the same graphite i use for a mold release and it works just fine.


here are the various components necessary for casting. in the center is the melting pot, or furnace. this one from Lee holds 20lbs of lead and pours from the bottom. it lists for $60 at midway usa, here: http://www.midwayusa.com/eproductpage.exe/showproduct?saleitemid=645810&t=11082005 . to the left is one of the molds, available here: http://www.midwayusa.com/esearch.ex...ee+bullet+mold&category_selector=all_products . lee molds are inexpensive and cast very precisely. they're milled from aluminum. i prefer them to iron molds because the heat up and cool down fast. there is no need to set them aside to cool after making the pour like with iron molds.

in front of the pot are some wheel weights available at most tire change places. i have around half a ton of them here at the house. that sounds like a lot, but in reality it goes quickly...be sure to stock up. to the right is a can of 'drop out' graphite spray. it is used to coat the mold so the bullets drop out when cast. also on the right are a wooden dowel used to open the sprue plate and a metal slotted spoon to skim the dross (junk that floats to the top) off the lead.


when your mold first arrives it will be coated with a light oil. this must be removed before casting. to do so spray it down inside and out with brake cleaner and let it dry. next you need to coat the cavities and bearing surfaces with a lubricant that won't burn off. this allows the cast bullets to drop free when the mold is opened. traditionally soot from a flame was used for this. to use that method simply open the mold and, using a lighter or match, let the soot from the flame coat the cavity well. don't use a candle as the soot is different and doesn't work as well. the other method and the one that i prefer is the graphite spray. in this pic you can see that not only are the cavities coated, but the bearing faces of the mold as well as the sprue plate (the metal plate on top of the mold).


once the mold is prepared it's time to melt the lead. most of us use wheel weights as they're virtually free for the taking. another good reason is they aren't pure lead, but have other metals like antimony and bismuth added to make them harder. the harder your bullets are the less they will leave lead in your barrel.

place the wheel weights in the furnace and turn it to maximum.
 

Christian for Israel

Guest
#2
after 20-30 minutes the metal will have melted and the steel clips will be floating on the surface. using the metal spoon, skim these off and deposit them in a metal container to cool.


next you need to flux the mix. flux causes contaminants in the metal like dirt to rise to the top. it also forces the different metals to bind together. you can buy flux specifically made for bullet casting, but paraffin wax works just as well (most of the commercial flux is made to reduce the smoke you get by using wax). cut a sliver of wax off a candle and simply drop it in the metal.


the wax will begin to smoke immediately.


immediately begin to stir the lead gently with the spoon to mix it.
 

Christian for Israel

Guest
#3
*note - the wax may ignite from the heat, this is not a problem. the fire will remain in the pot and will not affect the fluxing.

after the smoke has stopped, use the spoon to skim the dross (the crap that was released by the flux and is floating on the top) off and dump in in the container with the clips. the surface of the lead should have a shiny, mirror like finish now.


with the metal ready it is time to begin casting. make sure the pot is hot enough by lifting the pour handly briefly. if no lead comes out the pot still needs to heat. if lead pours out immediately it's ready. now you need to heat the mold. iron molds warp easily and therefore need to be heated gently. set one on the rim of the pot and let it warm for half an hour or so. aluminum molds on the other hand can be warmed quickly by dipping them directly into the lead.


leave the mold in the lead for 15-20 seconds and pull it out. if there is a solid chunk of lead attached to the mold or left floating in the pot the mold isn't hot enough.


when you can pull the mold out without leaving a chunk it is hot enough. one thing i need to mention here, if the mold gets too hot the lead won't set up. you will notice when this happens. to rectify the situation set the mold aside to cool.

with the mold hot it is time to pour. close the mold and the sprue plate and place it under the spout. with the first cavity under the spout, lift the handle gently and watch the lead pour in. when it starts to pool on top of the mold the cavity is full. move on to the next cavity and keep going until the entire mold is full.
 

Christian for Israel

Guest
#4
as soon as the pour is finished tap the sprue plate with the wooden dowel to cut the sprue.


normally the sprue remains on the plate but in trying to take pics while casting i dropped it. next tip the mold over the top of the pot so the sprue drops back in and remelts.


push the sprue plate all the way open with the dowel and turn the mold upside down over a bucket of water, opening it. normally the bullets will fall right out.


if they are being stubborn you can tap the mold HINGE with the dowel *DO NOT EVER STRIKE THE MOLD ITSELF AS THIS WILL RUIN IT*.
 

Christian for Israel

Guest
#5
and there you have it, two cast bullets. continue casting until you have as many as you want. for pistol bullets i usually do a couple hundred at a time, less for rifle bullets.


after you've cast as many bullets as you need, refill the pot with weights for next time and turn it off. when adding metal to a hot pot be especially careful that you do not allow any damp or wet metal in with it. the moisture will turn to steam explosively, throwing molten lead all over the place (this is why it is best to wear goggles or a face shield, along with long sleeves when casting). casters call such explosions visits from the tinsel fairy as the lead splashes against everything and cools hard and tinsel like. if you cast long enough this WILL happen to you. also you will likely get a speck of lead on your hands, burning them slightly. that's just part of the job...you will survive it.

now we need to lube and size the bullets. first dump off the water and pour the bullets onto a towel and dry them. next pour them into a bowl and add a little liquid alox.




swirl them around for a few seconds to let the lube completely coat them.
 

Christian for Israel

Guest
#6
you can size them immediately or let them dry overnight. if you let them dry the lube won't get all over your hands, but drying isn't necessary for the bullets.

lee sizing dies come with a bottle of liquid alox, they cost less than $15 and are available here: http://www.midwayusa.com/esearch.ex...e+bullet+sizer&category_selector=all_products

to use them, first install the pin in the ram and raise it to the top. next screw the die down until it touches the pin, then tighten the locking ring. finally, close the plastic box the sizer came in and place it on top of the die. it will catch the bullets as you size them.


you can now proceed to size all the bullets. simply place a bullet on the pin and raise the ram all the way. friction will hold the bullet in the die while you press another one in. as they keep moving up the bullets will fill the box on top.


if however, you are loading for a high power rifle, you may need to add a gas check. this is a small copper cup that fits to the bottom of the bullet and is crimped in place by the sizer. the gas check protects the bullet from the hot gasses in the barrel and also serve to scrape any lead out of the bore.


place a gas check on the base of the bullet and size as before.
 

Christian for Israel

Guest
#7
one note, in order to use a gas check you need a mold designed for them. the bullet must be sub bore size at the base to accept them. be sure to take note of this when ordering your mold.

here the gas checked bullets are accumulating in the box on top of the die.


that's all there is to it. if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them here.
 

NYECOGunsmith

Obsessed Member
Staff member
Moderator
#10
Well done. A very well put together lesson (and photos) on casting.
Thanks for taking the time to put it out there.

The only thing I might add to the description of the process is that ANYTHING that goes into the lead melt pot, before its fired up, or while there is molten lead in the pot, needs to be 110% DRY. No moisture at all is allowable. Check it before you dump it in, every time.
I have witnessed two separate steam explosions where someone dumped lead wheel weights into a pot of molten lead to refill it (so that they could keep casting) and the weights had acquired some moisture somewhere along the line. The water turns to steam nearly instantly, and blows molten lead everywhere. At 750+ degrees F. that's a disaster.
The first time I saw this happen was back in the 50's, I was just a kid, my Dad was Chief of Police, and the department had an underground range with separate reloading and casting rooms.
We walked into the casting room just in time to see a young officer dump some wheel weights he had brought in from home, into the molten lead pot. They had just a bit of water on them, and the steam explosion splashed lead all over his face, hands and arms. Fortunately for us he was at the far end of the room and none of it reached us.
It unfortunately left him with permanent disabilities that ended his law enforcement career. He lost the sight in both eyes due to molten lead hitting them.
So goggles and a face shield are a good idea when casting. So are heavy leather gloves, cotton shirt and pants (no synthetics, they melt and stick to the flesh) and leather boots not tennis shoes when casting.
And just like with reloading guys, no distractions.
No casting when you are drinking, tired, angry at the government/the wife/girlfriend/ mother in law or anything else.
A clear mind, focused on what you are doing, reviewing every step before you start and as you proceed, keep the gray matter engaged and you'll turn out great bullets safely.

The second incident was just about 10 years ago, my next door neighbor did the same thing, dumped a coffee can of wheel weights and other lead scrap into his Lee melting pot as I walked up to his garage casting area.
I was far enough away not to get splashed, and he was lucky in that he was wearing goggles, a full face shield, and a leather weldor's jacket\, gloves and leather boots.
No burns, but he sure was shaking. So was I.
He was an experienced caster, had been at it for over 30 years, but got careless and didn't check the can because it had been inside the garage and out of the weather for several months.
We never did figure out how the moisture got into the can, Dave just considered himself lucky that he got a lesson on safety without suffering for it. And also lucky that the splash of lead hadn't hit me, or set anything in the garage on fire.
This is one hobby(firearms and its related side hobbies like reloading and casting) where safety has to come first, last and everywhere in between.
 

geo

Obsessed Member
Staff member
Moderator
#11
How safe is it to melt the lead in an enclosed space? I have heard its a bad idea to do it indoors. I have an enclosed patio I can do it on.. but kinda wondering about lead build up..

Would like to try this with some pistol bullets.
 

Bob Irvin

Guest
#12
None of the metals involved in casting bullets are "human friendly". Good ventilation is a very good idea.

f.
 

NYECOGunsmith

Obsessed Member
Staff member
Moderator
#13
You want extreme cross ventilation while casting, and I would still wear a respirator mask that is OSHA approved for lead particulates.
By the way, absorption of lead from the fumes is enhanced, (so I have been told by a buddy who is a Heart and Lung Specialist, MD) if you are a smoker, so be sure to wear the mask!
 

quinch

Guest
#14
Great thread!!!
If you get a chance to do a pistol specific intro, .45 or .38 etc, please post it!
 

SilverStatePatriot

...from my cold dead hand
#15
I may be doing a bit of Necro'ing but I need to ask if you have had issue with leading. My father and I have started casting bullets and have had real trouble with leading. The only step I see that we have left out is the wax and the quenching, and I'm wondering if that is the critical steps that we have missed.

SSP
 

NYECOGunsmith

Obsessed Member
Staff member
Moderator
#16
I may be doing a bit of Necro'ing but I need to ask if you have had issue with leading. My father and I have started casting bullets and have had real trouble with leading. The only step I see that we have left out is the wax and the quenching, and I'm wondering if that is the critical steps that we have missed.

SSP
Leading is caused by (generally speaking) one of five things.

1. The alloy is too soft for the speed you are driving the bullet at. Add more tin or antimony to bring the hardness up a bit.

2. The speed is too great for any cast bullet.. You need to reduce the velocity, or go with a gas check design bullet that is cast out of harder alloy. There is a limit to how fast you can drive a cast lead bullet of any alloy, even with a gas check, before it starts to lead even a perfect bore.

3. The bullets are over sized for the bore. Mic (use a micrometer) to measure the cast bullets after they are a few hours old, and see if they are over the nominal bore diameter for the gun(s) you will be firing them through. For example, a cast bullet of .456" diameter is going to be a bit large in a .452" barrel in a .45 ACP. Size it down to the correct dimension with a sizing press.
Rarely do cast bullets drop from the mold at the perfect dimension, even if the mold is supposed to throw slugs of exactly the diameter of your barrel's bore. You generally have to size them all, and its easy to do.

4. The lubricant you are applying to the bullet is too soft and is not standing up to the heat of the powder charge and the friction being generated by the bullet's passage down the barrel. It's vaporizing instead of protecting the bore and helping to reduce leading. Use a harder lube.

5. You have an extremely rough bore that is peeling the lead off the slug. Polishing the bore may help, unless the bore is just too badly pitted or eroded.

The quenching process, done correctly, can add a few point (on the Brinell scale) and can help with leading if everything else is OK.
Try dropping them onto a folded Terry cloth towel that you keep well soaked with water. If they need to be just a bit harder, arrange the towel so that the bullets, when dropped from the mold, will land on the towel, and roll down it into a pail of water.

You could drop them directly into the water, but that sometimes (Depends on the alloy) hardens them a bit too quickly. That is, the exterior cools much faster than the interior does, can make for a bullet with varying densities, and result in being a bit less accurate than it should be.

As for the wax you mentioned, are you referencing it as a fluxing compound used to help bring the dross (impurities) to the surface of the casting furnace, or as a lube for use in the bullets lubrication grooves?
 

BKMe

uber Member
#17
I’ve been casting bullets for over 40 years in a well ventilate area and have not had any trace of lead poisoning. I know because in the first few years I had my blood tested. Also wash your hands after casting.
What casters call fluxing are really two processes, fluxing and smelting. When you first add lead to the pot it contains impurities these must be skimmed off and the metals lead, tin, antimony mixed together. After a while a dross forms on the surface of the lead. This is mostly tin, because it is less dense than lead and when it comes in contact with air oxidizes. You don’t want to skim this off, what you want to do is turn the tin oxide back into tin(smelting it). To do this you need to add carbon, which will scavenge the oxygen atoms off the tin oxide and leave tin and carbon dioxide. Don’t use wax what is much better is charcoal. Take charcoal briquettes and crush them into a powder and spread them on the surface of the melting pot and stir, but do not remove. This will mix the tin into the lead and the charcoal on the surface will make a barrier that will prevent the tin and lead from oxidizing. You may need to add charcoal from time to time because it is being consumed into carbon dioxide.
 

Bill14570

Guest
#18
lead safety

I would add to the lead safety tips:

I did get elevated lead levels (4 where over 5 is cause for concern) after many years of reloading and casting. From internet research my wife found that handling fired cases was a way to get lead exposure. The hooker is the residue from the primer compound that contains lead. I did not take precautions with brass because I did not realize the dirty brass had lead dust in it.

When my cousin did wipe tests where my uncle had reloaded shot shells for many years she found lead dust. When she did wipe tests on his lead melting bench she found more lead dust.

When I worked at a naval shipyard, they used a dedicated vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter for cleaning up lead dust.

The two obvious ways to absorb lead would be breathing it and eating it.
The good ventilation and/or air fed mask would be breathing protection.

For prevention of ingestion I would do three things:
(1) I would wash my hands after lead exposure and keep my outer clothing from lead handling away from food preparation and eating areas and away from small children. It is better to wash it separately from other laundry.
(2) I would quarantine an area that I believed had lead dust to prevent children or other unsuspecting people getting lead exposure, until I could clean it up. Since I like to cast outdoors, on a concrete floor, I would clean up by vacuuming the bench top and concrete floor around my bench. I would put the dross in closed containers and try to keep my casting materials in ingot form to minimize lead dust. I am not sure how to clean up lead dust on bare earth, so I would not cast over bare earth (or gravel).

I would clean up (vacuum) my reloading and casting areas with a vacuum cleaner that had a HEPA filter and I would not use that vacuum for anything else. A Sears canister vacuum with HEPA filter, should cost $300-$400 on sale. A little paint on the housing would brand it the "lead vac," not to be used in the rest of the house.

(3) I tumble clean my brass in a rock tumbler with a little liquid laundry detergent in water. This should remove the lead dust (and spider webs, mud, sand, chlorate primer residue, etc. Long ago I flushed the dirty water down the toilet, but now I would evaporate it and put the residue with my dross and other lead residue for proper disposal.
= = = = =
About steam explosions:

I like to melt and alloy my casting metals with a separate pot before casting. I use a stainless steel cooking pot (from the flea market) and home made ingot molds or Lyman ingot molds. I have used two approaches to the wet lead problem:
(1) I put a can of suspect metal (wheel weights or ?) on top of the lead pot and let it heat up enough to dry out before dumping it into the pot while I am melting metal in the pot. The important thing is that the water will evaporate before the lead melts.
(2) When I did a lot of metal (400-500 pounds in an afternoon), I attached my ladle to a 5 foot stick and (wearing a face shield, old hat and old jacket), then carefully dumped small helpings of slightly damp (not dripping) lead alloy into the pot and let it spatter. When I was finished there was a ring of lead spatter about 4 or 5 feet in diameter around the pot. I like to put my lead pot for casting ingots on a big piece of cardboard, so that the spills and spatters are easy to clean up.

I really like bullet casting, even though I have not done it for a long time, and lead precautions are not that hard, as long as I am aware of the problem.
 

jay

uber Member
#19
I would be very cautious/concerned about lead poisoning if there are pregnant people (women usually :) babies or kids in the area. I'd even go so far as to suggest separating lead exposed laundry from baby/kiddie laundry.

Also, what's the most economical way to ensure the lead is moisture free? Buy a used oven and use that to preheat to ~350 F?
 

Mooman76

Obsessed Member
#20
The best way to insure lead is moisture free is to keep it dry. Fortunately for us here it is a very dry climate here and we don't need to worry about it too much. I had a batch of old WWs I got from my brother in law and he put it in a antifreeze bottle. In the bottom were some wet WWs. I wasn't sure what the wet was but I was reasonably sure it wasn't water. I put them in the pot before I started heating it up that way if it was water, it would dry before the lead melted. I didn't have a problem with it and it wasn't water.
Some people buy a used toaster oven to heat lead for various things. That would work if you wanted to go that route but like I said keep it dry in the first place and you don't have to worry too much. Also don't bother washing your dirty lead. That's how I found out the hard way. If you have junk in the lead, pick out the easy stuff and melt the rest. No matter how clean you get it you will still have dirt in it and dross so just go ahead and melt it in an old pot, aluminum not recommended, use cast iron or steel. Anyway the dirt and dross will come to the top when it all melts down and you just scrape it off the top with a spoon.